Jo Nockels, Projects Manager, on the inspiration behind The Idea of North series and why she can’t wait for you to see Light Night in the Howard Assembly Room…

Posted on October 7, 2009


Jo Nockles, Projects Manager

What happens when you put a Norwegian composer who makes music entirely from ice, a Leeds filmmaker and a lot of people celebrating Light Night together? The short answer is that we don’t know yet! Our atmospheric Idea of North installation will be seen for the very first time on Light Night itself on the 9th October.

When we were first thinking about the events that would make up our Idea of North programme of events for Autumn ’09, Light Night seemed like an opportunity to try something really special, and make something brand new. Our idea was to explore the far north, the north of ice caps and Inuit’s: the thrillingly beautiful, icily inhospitable, slowly disappearing, north. We had lots of inspiration, from the Finnish stories of the Kalevala to Glenn Gould’s seminal, multi-layered radio recording ‘The Idea of North’ in 1967. I’d also heard about an amazing composer and musician called Terje Isungset who made music entirely from ice, and played ice-concerts across Europe in igloos, the tops of mountains and even at St Pancras Station.

So we invited Terje to come and play a live concert in Leeds, but he dashed our hopes rather quickly- apparently Leeds in October doesn’t have the right kind of ice! We then thought more about Glenn Gould’s ‘Idea of North’ recording and asked Terje and Leeds based media organisation Lumen, to use this as a reference to create an audio-visual installation for the Howard Assembly Room. Glenn Gould’s radio broadcast used overlapping recordings of people living in the far north to create a multi-layered, fragmented poem/documentary about the north. Lumen and Terje have used the sounds and images of ice, intersected and overlapping, to create their very own Idea of North.

In 2009, it’s impossible to explore the far north without also thinking about how and why it’s disappearing, without reflecting on the effect this has on the people who’ve lived there. So our Idea of North installation is also a homage to the north we are losing piece by piece.

It’s been an exciting few months, from meeting a tall, friendly, unmistakably Scandinavian man with the technical tools of his trade in a well-travelled, battered metal briefcase at Leeds Station, to hearing the amazing sounds in the Howard Assembly Room and the first rushes of the ravishing film. Terje told us the stories of the music in the installation and where he’d made them:

“All the sounds in the recording are unaltered recordings of frozen water – no computers, no manipulation, just ice in sculpted, crumbled and sliced form, made from glacial ice that is up to 600 years old. The timbres of the ice instruments are dependant on the temperatures of the ice as it freezes and the different quality of the ice in different areas”.

Now a couple of days from Light Night we’re making the final technical preparations and getting ready to install. We can’t wait for you to come and see the result!